Monday, 02 April 2012 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Exactly two years before general elections are constitutionally due in Antigua & Barbuda, both of the two main political parties the ruling United Progressive Party and the opposition Antigua Labour Party are readying themselves for that all-important event in the nation’s democracy the casting of ballots.
For this article, I will concentrate on what has been happening in the UPP. The ruling party lost its chief political strategist this week with the death of Roy Boyke. He had been the party’s strategist for the last two successful campaigns mounted by the UPP.
He was the one to come up with the theme "Government in the Sunshine" that the UPP used on its way to consecutive election victories.
But the ruling party seemed to have been preparing for elections without Boyke, as it has been actively engaged in the business of getting the campaign machinery oiled and greased in anticipation of a long and intense election season.
Leading from in front, Party Leader and Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer is reported to have already started his ground campaign with heightened presence in the constituency. On Friday night, ABS News reported that a group of young men presented computers to the Gray's Farm police station to assist with crime fighting, and Spencer just happened to be in the centre of this. (Where did the young men get the computers, one may ask.)
But nothing caught the attention of the public this week more than a suggestion from UPP Public Relations Officer Joanne Massiah that the party was looking to add new faces to its ticket ahead of the 2014 poll.
Here is where it gets really interesting! For starters, the constituencies are now represented by UPP incumbents, so why change?
Inside Politics has all the details. Let’s look at St Phillip South, currently represented by Health Minister, Wilmoth Daniel. He has been at odds with Prime Minister Spencer even before the 2009 elections according to sources within the UPP.
Not since the fracture between ALP’s Lester Bird and his onetime sidekick Hugh Marshall in the 1990’s, has there been a bigger political breakup as has clearly happened between Spencer and Daniel. Politically and socially, both men were inseparable. They served as godfathers for each other’s children and they played the ‘good cop’ (Spencer) ‘bad cop’ (Daniel) ploy to perfection all the way to electoral victory in 2004.
Those were the good days. Now jump to 2012, where it is clear that the end is now in sight for that once-treasured relationship between Spencer and Daniel.
It is the rumored that the party is looking to replace Daniel, the word on the ground is that an overseas-based diplomat who has deep roots in the constituency is being tipped to replace Daniel on the ticket.
Daniel has indicated that he will run. If that is his intention, it is clear that this may mean an election bid as an independent candidate. It is highly unlikely that he will ever be selected on a UPP ticket, at least not while Spencer is the leader.
Inside Politics is anticipating a big announcement from the Daniel camp in the coming days as he ponders Spencer’s lack of response to a letter he penned calling for a probe into the Wadadli Power Plant controversy.
Inside Politics is also following with keen interest the goings with Chester Hughes, the representative for All Saints East and St Luke. Hughes seems destined to create political history in the country as the first successful candidate to jump from one constituency to another.
He has been actively campaigning in the St Mary’s North constituency claiming that his familial and other ties are what drew him to that constituency.
Inside Politics raised the issue with Hughes directly but he refused to confirm or deny. He however added to the speculation by pointing out his ties with the constituency. “My mother lives there,” he remarked.
Already, Hughes has been spending much time in the constituency and he has also warmly embraced the proposed Chinese housing development in the Montero area of Ebenezer/Jennings while promising several young people that he would assist them with jobs on the project.
He also suggested that it would be a good move for the party, as the current ALP representative won by a narrow 19 vote margin in the 2009 general elections. UPP caretaker, Bertrand Joseph, who won the seat in the 2004 general elections, has already indicated that he has no desire to run again; has he has lost his political appetite.
The new configuration of the UPP’s slate for 2014 is premised on the notion that the party would win the All Saints East and St Luke seat with whomever candidate it presents. (Is that true Joanne?) They feel, the area has been solidly anti-ALP for so long, that it is impossible for the opposition party to name a candidate who would be able to overcome this serious disadvantage.
Hughes for one has as much as intimated that notion. In his view then, the UPP would kill two birds, literally and figuratively, if the party runs Hughes in the St Mary’s North constituency. He feels that his own personal dynamism, familial ties and connections with the area, would see him pull back the 19 seats by which Molwyn won.
The UPP also has good reasons for wanting to see that back of Joseph. He has been the primary ALP parliamentarian driving the power plant issue that is now a major embarrassment for the government and Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, in particularly. Spencer has invested much political capital in the power plant issue and as more revelations come to light regarding the plant and the problems associated with it, technical or otherwise, he is fast losing his credibility, the key asset that separated him from his equal number in the ALP.
But a decision by the UPP or Hughes to switch constituencies could well be a fatal error. Inside Politics has learned that there may be ‘more in the pestle than the mortar’. It appears as though Hughes may not be jumping from one constituency to the other as he claims, but in fact may have been pushed.
It has been suggested that Chester may be losing his lustre among constituents in All Saints East and St Luke. In the inevitable comparisons between the late representative, Charlesworth Samuel and Hughes, the current representative is said to fall way short. Certain lifestyle issues are a hard sell with the deeply Christian communities, Swetes and Old Road in particular, that are part of the constituency.
UPP sources say that Hughes may just be ‘jumping the gun’ as the proposed move to St Mary’s North may not have been sanctioned by the party’s hierarchy.
In fact, based on Bertrand Joseph’s decision not to run, the party has approached Dr Philmore Benjamin, and has asked him to give serious consideration to being the party’s candidate for the constituency. He is reported to have started making door-to-door "get-to-know-you" campaign visits in the area.
Others with an interest also include a pharmacist at the MBS.
The game of Musical Chairs within the UPP is definitely on!
Inside Politics turns its spotlight on the ALP next week.